Touching The Poor

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Directly behind where I was standing taking this photo is where the homeless of Waikiki gather on Tuesday nights to be served a hot meal.

I’ve been reading through the prophets lately.  And I saw a pattern.  God’s judgement on Israel and Judah are mainly for three things: worshipping idols, mistreating their poor, and allowing violence.

I wrote a draft of our upcoming ministry update (which you can sign up for here, I’m going to e-mail it out next week) where I talk about a run in I had over vacation with poverty.  And while writing that I had to ask myself where am I involved with the poor?

Not as a person in full time ministry, but as a Christian.  If God’s main judgements against His people in the Old Testament were because they were not caring for the poor, than that must be a pretty big deal to him.

So the other night after I cooked and ate dinner, I drove down to Waikiki.  Tuesday nights my friend RK feeds the homeless down there.  A YWAM team was there too.  I spoke to a new guy on staff for a bit, and then my friend Jason came over and talked to me.
The feeding was over when I got there, about 20 minutes after it had started.  But there were still a few people mingling.  A guy shuffled over to me while I was talking with Jason.  A piece of limp pizza in his hands.  His eyes were glazed over, not from a substance, but I think cataracts.

“Hey sir how are you doing?  I’m Jim and this is my friend Jason, whats your name?”

“Keith.”  He replied.  “Can you help me put my foot up there?”  He pointed to the back of the bench as he was trying to lift his foot up.

Jason disappeared.

“What?” I asked for clarification.

“Help me put my foot up there it helps with the circulation.”

I looked at his leg half raised, swollen and scabbed.  Something wet on the top of his foot.  Wishing I had gloves, but not wanting to rob this guys humanity, I put my left hand under his calf and my right hand under his heel and helped him put it on the back of the bench.

“A little higher please.”  He asked

I again cupped my hand under his calf and ankle, lifting his leg higher.

“No, it needs to be off.”

I thought he was talking about his slipper, so I removed his slipper from his right foot, who knows how long he had been wearing those, his toenails were long and discolored.

“No, I need you to help me take my foot off of that part of the bench and put it on that part.”  He said starting to sound annoyed

I lifted up his leg again.

He looked at me and thanked me.  A wet substance kept falling from his beard.  I think he was drooling and it was running down his beard.

I wasn’t planning on touching the poor tonight, I thought to myself.

“Yeah, having your foot up here helps the circulation, like if you get a headache you can touch the vein in the back of your neck.  Come here I’ll show you.”

I surely wasn’t planning on being touched by the poor tonight.  He touched his finger to the back of my neck.

“Where’d you go to High School?”  He asked me

A typical first question in Hawaii.

“Oh I didn’t grow up here, I grew up mainland.”

(I skipped a “on the” for some pidgin street cred)

“Oh, where at?”

“Maryland.”

“Oh, Baltimore, Chesapeake bay.”

“Yeah close to there.”

We talked a little about Maryland blue crabs, and crabbing and Samoan crabs.

“Hold my pizza, I need to put my foot down, my left leg is hurting a lot now.”  I held his pizza and helped steady him as he brought his foot down.

I suggested he sit down, so we moved our way to the front of the bench.  I sat on the wall in front of him.

“You’re not Jason are you?  You’re Jim?”

“Yes sir, I’m Jim.”  I responded, wondering why Jason peaced out.

RK was debriefing the YWAM team about how he started doing homeless feeding and has been doing it every week for almost 4 years.

“Want to hear some jokes?”  Keith asked me

Keith proceeded to tell me some racist jokes Hawaiian style.

“How does da por-tu-gee spell farm?”

“How?”  I asked

“e-i-e-i-o.”

I laughed.  He told me a few more, making fun of the Japanese, and then the Samoans.

“Are you Japanese?”  He asked me

“No I’m Korean…”

“Ahn Nyeong Ha Shim Ni Kka.”   He interrupted

“But I don’t speak any Korean…”

“But you know that one don’t you, the way to show respect.  Ahn Nyeong Ha Shim Ni Kka.”  He said again.

It reminded me of Pastor Bill from Pennsylvania the 80 year old Pastor Emertius at the church I worked at a few years ago.  Every time he saw me he would greet me the same way.

“What’s your ethnicity?”  I asked

“I’m Japanese, 4th generation.”  He said proudly “I need to eat this pizza.”

He nibbled on his pizza and the jokes all went down hill from there.  I won’t repeat any of them.

I was rubbing my hands on the sand from the wall, hoping that the friction would get off anything that I might have picked up from touching the guys legs.

“Help me take my backpack off.”  He said “It’s hurting me.”

I stood up to help him.  His body was frozen up with inflammation.

“I had a stroke.”  He said, “I might have just had one this week too.”

That explained the drool.  I was having the hardest time getting the backpack off.  I kept catching the back pack strap on his watch.

“Watch my watch, you’re tearing my wrist off.”  He said

I wasn’t sure if he was being serious or not.  I maneuvered the backpack strap over the watch and got one side off.

“Hold my pizza.”  He said

I held the last of his pizza.

“Your hands are clean right?  No open sores or anything?”

I laughed at his question, since I had been wondering the same thing about the back of his leg.

“Yes my hands are clean.”  I said.

I helped him get off the other side of the backpack too.  When it came off he sighed a sigh of relief.  As we talked he kept leaning over to his right side, not intentionally, but he just kept falling that way.  Every few minutes I’d have to sit him back upright.

The YWAMers took off, Jason flashed me the shakka and a smile on their exit.  I really like that guy, he’s got such a pure heart.

RK came over to me and asked Keith if he liked me.  Keith responded he did.  We said goodbye to Keith, I told him I’d see him next week. He asked me to put his backpack back on him.  I did.  As I stood directly in front of him making sure the straps were not twisted a whiff of body odor and urine hit me.

God loves the poor.  And He calls me to do the same.  Not from a distance, but up close.

I came home rattled.

And saw a tweet from Max Lucado.

“Jesus showed us the power of a godly touch. You do the same when you pray for the sick; teach a child; make a call; or prepare a meal.–Max”

I washed my hands a lot before going to bed.  And wondered how much physical touch Keith had had recently.

I wonder today what my role in ending systemic poverty is and how most likely I can’t do it from afar.  I’m going to have to get my hands dirty, literally.

How are you interacting with the poor?  Or what is your biggest hindrance from interacting with them?  Comment and let us know.

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